LONDON, United Kingdom — Seeing the designer in her element, there is no mistaking that Edeline Lee is woman who wears many hats. At her live-in studio in Kensington, clothing samples, notes and reference books are strewn about the space while Lee and her assistant cast a fit model for her upcoming season. Around the corner and just in sight, Lee’s son is drawing a birthday card for a friend.
For the designer, entrepreneur and mother, the reality of a multitasking lifestyle is central to her work. “I’m always thinking of real women. They are mothers, they own their own businesses and go to events. I’m thinking of the woman who has 20 roles," Lee said when talking through her streamlined aesthetic and attention to details and functionality.
Lee moved to London from Canada 13 years ago to begin her fashion design studies at the prestigious Central Saint Martins. There, amongst peers like Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh, she flourished both creatively and professionally by immersing herself in her craft and learning from trial and error. “No one teaches you how to make patterns in depth, no one teaches you how to design. And I definitely didn’t have business classes. But it does teach you to be completely creatively independent, so you figure it out.”
Between 2002 and 2003, while still at St Martins, the designer apprenticed at Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. Then, in 2004, she dropped out of school to take up a position in New York as the associate creative director at Zac Posen, at the time a start-up. “I loved New York,” she said. “But I didn’t really know who I was as a designer. I’d only worked for other people”. She eventually returned to London to finish her studies and, in 2006, back when BoF first discovered Lee, she signed on to launch womenswear for conceptual fashion label The Rodnik Band.
Now, after a brief hiatus and with child in tow, Lee is back with her own eponymous label and has turned to her new life as a mother for inspiration. “It’s a really different perspective being a mother and being a bit older,” she explained. “Now I understand what, practically, a woman needs, and the function of a garment as well as the aesthetic.” She also finds comfort being back in London. “Here, it’s smaller and there’s a little more room to breathe.”
For Fall/Winter 2012 — her first official retail season as an independent designer — Lee referenced the architectural drawings of El Lissitzky and the Pre-Modernist works of the Vienna Workshop, or Wiener Werkstätte. “It’s a composition of shapes, yet highly decorative and feminine,” she said of the collection.
With each piece, she juxtaposes severe lines and geometric patchworks with soft elements like raw silk edges, pleats and washed fabrics. In technique, she strikes a balance between the traditional and the modern. On several garments, synthetic fringe mimics the look and feel of fur, while hand-wrapped closures and hand-painted buttons make her pieces feel that they are one-of-a-kind. Other details, like the way the inside of a pocket feels or the way a coat fastens, are elements she takes equally seriously.
For this month’s Spotlight, Lee designed a logo that captures and communicates her aesthetic, with elements of classicism and an emphasis on careful composition and craftsmanship.
And it seems her eye for detail is paying off. After a “wild” first selling season (including two back-to-back road trips to Paris and a 48-hour blitz in New York City) Edeline Lee has captured the attention of editors and buyers alike. She counts Hamish Bowles as a supporter and a selection of her pieces will be stocked at Browns and Ikram come Autumn. It’s all exciting momentum for an emerging designer who, so far, has managed to put all the right pieces into place.
The Spotlight is BoF’s showcase for emerging talent who employ creativity and business acumen to make their mark in the fashion business.